Physics, Freshmen, Furniture… and a Grant Win!

There hasn’t been a lot of action on this blog site so far this school year—but not because there aren’t things worth writing home about! As you can imagine, I (Mr. Meadth) have been much busier on the ground each day with cleaning and supervision, let alone teaching the engineering class.

But some things are worth documenting and celebrating. So let’s jump in!

1. Four New Freshmen

We took four new engineering students into the freshman class. A big welcome to Hunter, Abby, Teleios, and Eliana. These junior engineers are hitting the ground running, despite all the challenges. They are learning trigonometry before their time, taking baby steps into the world of computer-aided design (CAD), and just generally being awesome. Welcome, freshmen!

Hunter, Teleios, and Abby (Eliana couldn’t make this
photo, but she’s just as much a part of this group!)

2. College-Level Statics… From a Textbook

Despite my propensity to always design my own curriculum from the ground up, I tried something new this year: a textbook! It turns out this was the perfect year in which to do this, as it matched well to the statics studies that we’ve always done anyway. Don’t be led astray by the name—Statics for Dummies—the lighthearted tone helps high schoolers get through those pesky equations. For those engineering parents out there, you’ll find all of the fun you can handle in vector calculations, force couples, and free-body diagrams.

3. Independent Mode

This is a grand experiment, and one that we committed to from the start of the year. Can we commit to a full year of engineering studies in independent mode? Some would say that it’s never been tried, but this is the year to come up with new solutions! Despite the absence of stimulating classroom discussions, this has allowed students to take seven classes plus engineering, and it allows students to watch at their own pace. Students have watched 18 videos so far this year, and responded with written assignments and discussion boards. They are now eagerly discussing their community design project in a shared Google Doc, which brings us to Number 4…

Acceleration sums in three dimension, anyone?

If you can’t find the centroid of a composite area,
you just can’t call yourself an engineer

4. Community Design Project

I’m so happy with how this project is rolling forward! We have two “clients”, Mrs. Christa Jones on the San Roque campus and Mr. Gil Addison at PathPoint, who works with residents in wheelchairs. Our student teams are busily designing an adjustable standing desk for Mrs. Jones and an adjustable computer desk for Mr. Addison. Both of these designs are required to involve electrical/mechanical aspects, such as motorized lifts or built-in LED lighting. Once the student teams finalize their designs, complete with drawings and CAD models, I (Mr. Meadth) will be building their designs myself—in the interest of staying as contact-less as possible.

5. Lots of Publicity

We’ve received a surprising amount of national-level publicity lately. Our students use the CAD platform Onshape, and Onshape reached out to us to record a video and write a blog article. The video has been up for a over a month now, and the blog article will be published soon. Our Academy was also mentioned in another national publication by the American Institute of Aviation and Aeronautics (AIAA), Aerospace America, because we won a $500 grant to help build our remote-controlled aircraft.

6. Major Grant Win

Is it just me that believes in our outstanding Providence engineering program? Is it just the university lecturers who receive our already-highly-trained students? Am I just blowing my own horn over here? Apparently not! The Toshiba America Foundation decided that our second-semester robotics project was something worth funding, and we are pleased to announce that over $4,000 of the very latest in classroom robotics equipment will soon be arriving on campus. This will be put to use in our Mars Rover project, where different student teams will design, build, and code different components of one big vehicle. I’m looking forward to this one. Thanks, Toshiba!

One of the advanced Vex V5 sets: coming soon!

As always, stay posted for more exciting announcements. Our junior engineers are doing something very different, but making the most of it. I’m confident that their skills and experience will remain at the very highest level amongst similar programs in our area. Keep it up, students!

–Mr. Meadth

A Tour of JPL


(This is the eighth in a series of blog articles written by the Providence Engineering Academy students. Pedro in 11th grade reflects on his experience at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena on our class field trip earlier this year.)


“The trip was really inspiring way above expectations. I enjoyed the chance to see where they work, and the 2020 rover was a memory I will never forget.”

“It really re-awoke the third grade Nolan in me. The rover around Saturn replica was cool to see, it was a great experience, and I’m so glad I got the opportunity to go.”

These are the words Josh and Nolan stated about our class trip to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). JPL was a fun and interesting experience, and in our tour we got to learn and see things that we’ve never seen before.

First off, we saw a video that was amazing to watch. This video showed us the gigantic size of the whole universe and taught us that most of it hasn’t been explored. It also showed some satellites and spacecraft that were launched into space, and we were able to look at smaller scaled models of these around the room.

Our host shows the various scale models of historical space probes

Next, we got to see the control room, which was full of screens and numbers. This is the room where they gather information from every spacecraft, rover, and satellite. It is also the place from which they controlled the landing of the Mars rover, Curiosity, in 2012—which we learned was a really terrifying seven minutes for these hard workers! 

The control center, from which every robotic space mission
has been monitored
Then, we got to see photos from one of the rovers on Mars. These photos had been taken just hours earlier and we got to see them on a screen!

After that, we got to see the construction of the 2020 Mars rover. Amazing! We learned that anyone that is eighteen or under can get their name applied on the 2020 rover.

The rover being constructed inside a “clean room”
Our final stop was the gift shop, which sold “space” ice cream, sweaters, and some cool toys for your kids. Overall, JPL was a fun and really cool experience for all of us.

Space: The Final Frontier

(This is the second in a series of blog articles written by the Providence Engineering Academy students. In the light of our recent trip to Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Ben in 12th Grade describes some of the history and future of space exploration.)

The concept of space travel has captured the public eye since the late 1800s with science fiction. As humans learned to blow things up in a certain direction more effectively, what was once science fiction became science speculation and from there we continued in our search for what lies beyond.

The entire group poses inside the famous JPL facility
On September 25, 2019, the Providence Engineering Academy was given the opportunity to take a glimpse into our country’s efforts to see just what else God has created in our universe at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. We humans, as stewards of creation, have a special role in discovery and advancement of our world, and this stewardship is taken seriously at JPL. They have produced deep space telescopes, orbital telescopes, weather telescopes, rovers, etc. for this exact purpose.
Our host stands next to the life-size (non-functional!) sister of
the currently active Mars rover, Curiosity
Mankind continues our search for life on other worlds as JPL designs their next Mars rover, set for launch in 2020. This rover is designed to search the soil of Mars for any signs of life. As an engineering student, I am greatly inspired by the efforts that we as stewards make to find out more about our neighboring planets. Scientists are also hoping to research the seas of Europa, one of the largest moons of Jupiter, to see if there is any life below the outer icy shell. Since there are large bodies of water on Europa, many scientists wonder if creatures live there, just as there is sea life on earth.
Our host shares the incredible history of space exploration from
this site, with a scale model of the Cassini probe in the background
Meanwhile, deep-space telescopes have been expanding the radius of what we know. There are upcoming missions for my generation to develop, based on all of the ground-breaking work done by the gifted scientists at JPL and other locations. One such mission is to develop a telescope to photograph other solar systems so that we can see if there are similar planets to Earth in those systems.
We deeply appreciated the enthusiasm and brilliance on display at JPL, and we wait with anticipation for what the future might hold—perhaps we’ll be a part of it!

Educational Design Project: Part III

Summer update time! Take a break from all that relaxing and read on…

Today marks an important milestone: the Providence Engineering Academy’s Educational Design Project finally had all student designs approved by their clients! Mrs McLemore in the 1st Grade was able to confirm that the latest iteration of Isabelle’s pencil clip was in fact suitable for her class. We did feature Isabelle’s Mark 7 in the last update on this project. Mrs McLemore tested Mark 9 today, which had a slight modification by Mr Meadth, and mass printing has already begun.

Isabelle’s Mark 9, final and approved!

Before school ended, we had some other significant projects finish up as well. Jake took a break from building guitars to turn out a delightful middle school gear demonstration. This demonstration will show the middle school engineering elective in a very tactile way just how torque and rotational speed are traded off against each other; you can have one or the other but you can’t max out both at the same time. It should also be noted that Jake’s design was completely A-OK from when he first submitted it back in late March… it just took until May to coax such a complex shape out of our large Leapfrog printer. The science lab was littered with the debris of many failed attempts, as Mr Hurt will testify.

Jake serving up a pair of mounted meshing
gears, in a 1:3 ratio

Colby’s ionic lattice underwent some key design changes–which is all part of the lessons learned. Chief among them was swapping out spherical atoms for slightly boxier ones (it’s hard to print a perfect sphere on a flat platform). His connecting “bonds” also became completely separate in and of themselves, which also enabled us to control colors separately. In the end, Colby’s design is an eye-catching work of art, fitting no fewer than 81 individual pieces into a large crystalline cube. Mr Meadth’s addition of a simple base puts the whole thing front and centre in the Chemistry classroom, tottering on the precipitous edge of Mr Hurt’s bookcase.

Mr Hurt receives Colby’s design with a restrained show of indifference

Mounted on its end, representing a metallic lattice to all who will take notice

Josh’s design took home the prize of “largest single printed piece of plastic”, putting an Egyptian pyramid in juxtaposition with a Mesopotamian ziggurat. This hands-on manipulative is now happily abiding in Mrs Kleen’s 6th Grade social studies collection. Note how the pyramid is in two parts, to show a representation of the tunnels and chambers within.

Pyramid (gold) vs ziggurat (brown), by Josh

The pyramid pulls apart to show a small network of tunnels and chambers

While Sarah Jane already finalized her design for the Engineering Academy USB drives back in March, it was not until just recently that the designs were printed in their final colors and had the drives inserted in place. These are worth seeing.

32 GB of goodness!

Engineering Academy students can use these to help carry around their
oh-so-important computer files–in style

And finally, some news from the Future Engineers “Star Trek Replicator” competition. Three of our students entered into this competition as an alternative to the Educational Design Project. The task was to create a 3D-printable object that was food-related (but not edible… apparently that point had to be clarified).
We are very happy to say that out of scores of entrants across the nation, Tys was selected to be a top-ten semifinalist in his age division! Tys’ MCAPP was designed to allow planting and composting in a single hexagonal pot, which can then be easily tessellated for maximum efficiency in storage. The judges liked his work, and so do we! The low-resolution image is here below, but you can see the original here, and even download Tys’ model for your own 3D printer (you have one, right?).
What does MCAPP stand for, you say?  Martian Compost
and Planter Pot
Thus concludes the various projects submitted by our Engineering Academy students. We’ll finish with one more photo from the Providence 3rd Grade, taken upon receiving their class set of ten-sided dice.

More exciting things to come in the new school year!

Middle School Science and Engineering Expo

Providence School launched its Engineering Academy this school year, and it has proved to be a great success. Overseen by Mr. Rodney Meadth, this four-year high school program gives participants a broad experience in the various fields of engineering, with an emphasis on practical service and project-based learning.

In carrying out assignments with real-world applications, students designed an orphanage for partners in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, taught a science lesson to younger students, and produced custom-designed 3D-printed educational items requested by the school’s teachers. Examples of these include geometry volume demonstrations, chemistry molecular models, pyramids and ziggurats for elementary social studies, and even the Academy’s own promotional USB drives. They also connected with professionals in the Santa Barbara area, including Moog Space and Defense Group, Praevium Research, and architect Jeff Shelton.
The science lesson taught to the 4th Grade earlier this year; the catapult will
feature again in a hands-on activity at the Science and Engineering Expo!

Engineering Academy students are acting as mentors for Providence’s first Middle School Science and Engineering Expo. The Expo showcases a variety of hands-on demonstrations and exhibits, all relating to a theme of space exploration. Aimed at families with upper-elementary aged children and older, guests can interactively explore robotics, chemistry, navigation, interplanetary science, and more.

The Providence Science and Engineering Expo will be held at the school’s Upper Campus on 630 Canon Perdido Street on May 3, from 4:30 pm to 6:30 pm. Entry is free, refreshments will be served, and families with children are encouraged to attend.

Middle school students explore the theme of space exploration, coming up
with a conceptual design for a Mars habitat

“I’m excited to show people what we’re doing with STEM here at Providence, because it’s something unique,” says Meadth, who is co-leading the Expo with the middle school science teacher, Nate Alker. “We have a strong engineering and science experience, from a Christian perspective, in the context of the liberal arts. This means that our students understand not only the ‘how’ of science, but also the ‘why’.”
The Providence Engineering Academy is currently accepting applications for next year at all high school grade levels (9-12). Those interested should contact Rodney Meadth at rmeadth@providencesb.org. Browse this blog site to read more stories of projects undertaken and grants awarded and to download a copy of the application packet.

Educational Design Project: Part I

A few weeks ago, we mentioned that the Academy students are working to design actual products to be used by our own Providence teachers, and that a grant from New Matter would provide us with three more 3D printers to help accomplish this. The students submitted their final work today, and we wanted to show a snapshot of some of the pieces.

Alec, a freshman, responded to several small projects, the first of which was to design a close-fitting cone/cylinder and pyramid/box set. These will be given to the Geometry class, as a hands-on experiential proof that the volume of a cone is truly one-third of its enclosing cylinder. Students can place the cone inside the cylinder, and fill up the empty space with rice or beans or beads. When they remove the cone, they will find that exactly two-thirds of the cylinder’s volume is still full, meaning the cone took up one-third of the volume. Simple, handy demonstrations like this tend to stick well in a student’s mind, and Alec has provided just the tools to do it!

Alec with his cone/cylinder demonstration, destined for the Geometry class
Eva, also in the 9th Grade, responded to a design brief coming from our middle school engineering elective (Eva participated in this elective last year … and did very well!). At the end of each semester, the middle school students create LEGO robots that attempt to complete a particular challenge. The challenge usually takes the form of collecting or depositing small objects, and we have used coins and foam cubes in the past. Eva is bringing us into the 21st Century with custom-designed 3D-printed hexagonal… things. The “things” are strong enough for an adult to stand on, have gaps and angles that make it easy for the robots to grab on to, are brightly colored for the robot sensors, and are surprisingly light, being mostly hollow. Way to go, Eva!
Eva shows off her game piece for the middle school engineering elective

Gabe, Tys, and Aaron were given permission to respond instead to the “Star Trek Replicator Challenge”, a public competition organized by the ASME Foundation and NASA. The three of them are working individually to create food-related items that could be one day 3D printed by astronauts and interplanetary explorers. While this may sound far-fetched, 3D printing is actually an ideal solution for isolated spacemen and spacewomen; if a tool or part breaks, or if you suddenly need more of a particular item, you can produce it at will from CAD plans, which could either be created locally or transmitted from a design team on Earth.

Gabe’s product, one section of which is pictured, is a food storage container, made in two pieces, with self-locking tabs. He has also taken the opportunity to learn additional CAD skills, such as running finite element analysis (FEA) to determine crucial stress locations.

We wish Gabe, Tys, and Aaron the very best for their submission to the competition!

A small section of Gabe’s NASA food storage solution, with locking tabs

Lastly, sophomore Sarah Jane set about designing the promotional material for next year’s Engineering Academy students. This year, we had a simple flat key tag designed by Mr. Meadth; next year, Sarah Jane’s design will feature a 32 GB USB drive housed in a hexagonal sheath with the Providence “P” logo proudly emblazoned on the front. Creative and useful!

Sarah Jane’s USB drive housing (the final print will be in two colors
and include a 32 GB USB drive)

Part II of this story will come later in the semester, after the students have actually given their printed products to Providence teachers and received feedback. Learning this iterative design loop is a key component of any engineering experience, and the students have taken to it with gusto. Subscribe to this blog to hear about it when it happens!

Middle School: Intro to Engineering

Our high school Academy provides a robust four-year program for any high school student who wishes to apply… but what about the younger grades? It is easier than ever for elementary and middle school students to get a handle on engineering and science concepts, both in the classroom and even at home. Along with our established science classes, Providence meets this need with the middle school elective: Intro to Engineering.
This semester, the Intro to Engineering class is following a space exploration theme. Within that framework, the students will explore the history of space travel, structural engineering topics, sensor/motor robotics technology, navigation principles, and coding. One of the first mini “challenges” given to the boys and girls was to design a Mars habitat–all within fifteen minutes!
Students outline their design prior to sharing it with the rest of the class
Presenters opened the floor for questions after their presentation
From there, they looked at an overview of space travel, beginning with Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon. The last 100 years or so of space exploration were described, culminating in the incredible achievements of 2015: the flyby of Pluto by New Horizons, the Philae comet lander, astronaut Scott Kelly committing to a year on the International Space Station, and much more.
Today, the class completed a hands-on exploration of trusses. A truss is a linked system of thin, light members, that preserves high strength and rigidity for very low weight–highly favoured by space engineers the world over! Our students built their own truss with the classroom LEGO kits, and then made predictions as to which of their truss members were in tension or compression. They replaced the tension members one by one with pieces of string, proving their guesses were correct.

Two of the boys show how tension members in a truss
can be replaced with string
These explorations will pave the way for the eventual design and construction of autonomous robotic systems at the end of the semester. Plenty more projects to come before then, and we’ll keep you posted!